Update, 4:08 p.m. After cancelling his Friday flight and suggesting he was snubbed from his close friend Nelson Mandela's funeral by the government, Archbishop Desmond Tutu has changed his mind, saying he will indeed attend the ceremony.
In a short statement that offered no details in regards to the about-face, a spokesperson for Tutu said that he would fly out early Sunday morning to the funeral in Qunu.
A government official had responded to the archbishop's initial claim by saying that he was an "important man" who was on the list.
Original: Not going to invite Archbishop Desmond Tutu to his friend's funeral? Fine: he won't go at all, then.
Tutu, the 82-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate (and a frequent critic of South Africa's government), says he didn't receive credentials from the government to attend Nelson Mandela's funeral on Sunday, which will be attended by about 5,000 dignitaries. So despite plans to fly into Qunu, where Mandela will be interred, he's decided to cancel his flight to the family funeral after he says he wasn't told by the South African government that he was invited:
Much as I would have loved to attend the service to say a final farewell to someone I loved and treasured, it would have been disrespectful to Tata (Mandela) to gatecrash what was billed as a private family funeral. Had I or my office been informed that I would be welcome there is no way on earth that I would have missed it.
The government says this was a misunderstanding, and that Tutu has indeed been invited to the funeral. "He is definitely on the list," presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj told AFP. "The Arch is not an ordinary church person, he is a special person in our country," he said, before promising to ensure Tutu could attend the ceremony successfully.
Tutu, a leading anti-apartheid figure, did deliver a sermon at Tuesday's memorial service which saw dignitaries from around the world in attendance. After the public funeral ceremony on Saturday, with 5,000 expected to attend, the burial itself will be a "private family matter."
Tutu was a close friend of Mandela's. Tutu officiated Mandela's 1998 wedding, and as soon as he was released from his long imprisonment in 1990, Mandela spent his first night with Tutu.
It caps something of a terrible week for the apartheid survivor, as his Cape Town home was also robbed while he and his wife were attending the public memorial on Tuesday night, according to the archbishop's aides. It's the third time his home has been robbed since 2007; that year, his Nobel prize was among the items stolen, though it was later recovered.
While government officials say this was an honest mix-up, this very public spat won't do any favours for Jacob Zuma. The South African president has already been booed at Mandela's memorial and has been criticized for a shoddily managed event that saw a man who has claimed to have had psychotic episodes stand next to the most powerful man on earth. Even the small ceremony on Saturday, where Zuma and his party received Mandela's body in Qunu, was slammed for restricting members of the community from attending.
The alleged snub of the archbishop comes off as petty, considering Tutu's own criticism of Zuma ever since 2009, when Tutu mused openly about not even casting a ballot and questioning why Zuma never faced trial to oppose, in-person, 16 allegations of corruption, fraud, racketeering and tax evasion.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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